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Diagnostic Heart Catherization

What is a Diagnostic Cardiac Catherization?
Cardiac Catheterization (Heart Cath) is a heart test in which soft, thin plastic catheters (tubes) are placed in the large blood vessels usually in the leg and threaded carefully to the heart. The catheters are used to take pressure measurements inside the heart and to inject contrast or dye so pictures of the heart can be taken,

How do I prepare my child for a heart cath?
Getting your child ready to have this test will depend on the age of your child. For infants and toddlers, bringing a special stuffed animal, blanket or pacifier may help to make them more relaxed during the heart cath. Preschoolers and older children sometimes enjoy watching a favorite video or listening to music. Toddlers may be told they are going to have a special test the night before or the morning of the heart cath. Preschoolers may be told of the heart cath 1 to 2 days before, while older children may be told 1 to 2 weeks before. Older children may have questions of their own; these should be answered honestly.

Your child should not eat or drink anything the morning of the procedure. He/she will get medicine to make him/her sleepy and relaxed about 15 to 20 minutes before the heart cath. You will be able to walk to the cath lab with your child but will be asked to leave during the test.

How is a heart cath performed?
Your child will lie on a special table that has an X-ray machine over it. During the test your child will have his/her heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels carefully watched by specially trained doctors, nurses and technicians. After the groin area is cleaned, sterile towels are laid around this area. Your child will receive numbing medicine that is given as a shot under the skin where the catheter is going to be placed. After this medicine takes effect, your child should not feel pain in this area but may feel some pressure or pushing. The catheters are then placed in the large blood vessels and threaded carefully to the heart. When the contrast is injected, your child will feel warm, like drinking a cup of hot chocolate real fast. This will only last a few seconds.

What happens after the heart cath?
At the end of the test, the catheter is removed. A large bandage is placed over the site to prevent bleeding. Your child will be told to keep this leg straight for a few hours to decrease the chance of bleeding at the site. Your child will be taken to the inpatient cardiac unit where he/she will be monitored for several hours. During this time your child will need to be quiet and lay flat. Your child’s nurse will monitor the pulses and skin temperature in the leg that was used for the test. She will also check the dressing frequently for bleeding.

The length of time it takes for your child to wake up varies with each child and the type of medicine he/she has received during the cath. When your child is awake, he/she may drink clear liquids, such as sugar water for infants or a popsicle for older children. If your child does OK with this, he/she may have a normal diet.

When your child does not require further monitoring, he/she will be discharged from the hospital. Instructions regarding care of the catheterization site, bathing and activity restrictions will be given to you prior to your leaving.

2006: Information reviewed and approved by Laura Bell, RN, MSN, PNP Pediatric Cardiac Surgery and Lynda Dettling RN, BSN.


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